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Human-robot collaboration: Welcome, fellow robot!

Humans and robots already work together in production today. Robots support and relieve human operators, enable versatile automation steps and increase productivity. Human-robot collaboration (HRC) is an additional element that combines human capabilities with the efficiency and precision of machines.

Cobots: the status quo of flexible production

Flexible manufacturing in variable batch sizes with utmost efficiency – this is the challenge for the production of the future. To meet it, human-machine interaction will be required through all phases of robotic automation implementation – making it easier and faster to setup, install, commission, program, operate maintain and re-use robots in all applications.

In today’s modern factories, many production steps are already automated using machines. Human knowledge, intelligence, flexibility, creativity and sensitive touch ensure the smooth running and quality of production processes.

Alongside conventional industrial robots, collaborative, sensitive robots (“cobots”) can make it not only easier to commission and program them, but in many cases also work directly together with production workers, easing their workload. They can take on strenuous, ergonomically unfavorable and monotonous work, such as overhead work or the performance of repetitive tasks. Their floor space requirement is relatively low, as any safety equipment required can be designed to be extremely space-saving.

With their integrated sensors, cobots make it possible to automate delicate assembly tasks – ranging from assembling automotive transmissions through to inserting rubber plugs or handling flexible parts.

In the case of unexpected contact, an appropriate solution is defined for every application: either a stop is triggered or the cobot reduces its speed sufficiently to preclude the risk of injuries.

When people and robots can work safely together, without fencing separating them, many conventional safety precautions become superfluous – humans and robots can share the same workspace without any concerns.

KUKA Cobots

Forms of HRC: coexistence, cooperation, collaboration between humans and robots

Depending on the area of application, humans and cobots can work together with varying degrees of proximity. Even though the term “human-robot collaboration” is the one most commonly used, the “C” in HRC can stand for various different forms of cooperation.

Coexistence: Humans and robots work in adjacent workspaces without safety fencing. They do not, however, share a common workspace and work independently of one another on different tasks. In this case, the sensitivity and safety of a cobot can greatly ease and speed the commissioning, programming and re-use due to handguiding, teach training, and the lightweight nature of most cobots.

Cooperation: In human-robot cooperation, humans and robots work in the same workspace. They work alternately on different tasks within a process. There is no direct interaction. This type of collaboration calls for fenceless operation, either because the cobot is inherently safe or the workspace is protected with sensors.

Collaboration: Humans and robots interact in a shared workspace. For example, the robot passes something to the human operator, or they simultaneously perform different tasks on the same workpiece.

The new generation of robotics

KUKA started a new chapter in the history of industrial robotics when we introduced the LBR iiwa. As the first series-produced sensitive robot suitable for human-robot collaboration, the LBR iiwa has opened up new areas for robotics that were previously closed to automation.

With the addition of the LBR iisy to KUKA’s cobot portfolio, we cover a large range of cobot applications, from the simplest to the most complex. The LBR iisy represents the beginning of the next generation of cobots from KUKA running on iiQKA.OS and supported by the iiQKA Ecosystem.

*The LBR iisy is available in the iiQKA Pre-Launch Package for a small number of customers starting in 2022 and scaling in availability after that. Please check our iiQKA – Robots for the People page for more information. 

These collaborative, sensitive and lightweight cobots can make it much easier and faster to implement robotics, and also make it possible for humans and robots to work directly together on highly sensitive tasks. Areas of application range from assembly, testing and material handling, to adhesive bonding processes in industrial production.

This is because cobost are not only extremely precise and flexible, but can also be deployed safely in a wide range of different working environments.

Mens-robot-samenwerking maken veilig en efficiënt werken op maat mogelijk.
Human-robot collaboration enables safe and efficient precision work.

Human and robot – hand in hand for BMW

Whereas in the past workers at the BMW plant in Dingolfing had to lift and join heavy bevel gears for front-axle transmissions by themselves, today they work together with their collaborative colleague, the LBR iiwa.

With the HRC solution developed specifically for the customer, KUKA enables the car manufacturer to automate arduous production steps that were previously carried out manually and permanently ease the workload of its employees. Its sensors detect contacts immediately and the LBR iiwa responds without delay. This enables close cooperation between human and robot entirely without safety fencing.

Perfectly coordinated team. Perfectly adjusted headlights.

Car maker Ford’s German slogan “Eine Idee weiter” translates as “An idea ahead”. Thanks to KUKA’s HRC expertise, the company is already several ideas ahead with the automation of its production lines. On the headlight system test stands for the Ford Focus, for example, two KUKA LBR iiwa robots perform the ergonomically unfavorable fine adjustment of the fog lights while the operator adjusts the conventional headlights. Humans and robots work on the same vehicle without additional robotic safety equipment. As well as easing the workload of the worker, they also achieve greater adjustment quality and valuable time savings.

The human and cobot share the production steps in a fast-paced work environment, ensuring enormous relief of our workforce.

Michael Koch, Production Engineer at Ford

Advantages of human-robot collaboration

  • Higher level of automation

    Cobots complement the capabilities of human workers and enable the fast automation of production steps that were previously performed manually.

  • Eased workload for employees

    Physically demanding, hazardous and monotonous work steps can be taken over by collaborative, sensitive robots. This relieves the burden on employees.

  • Consistently high quality

    Repetitive and high-concentration processes are performed by collaborative, sensitive lightweight robots with the utmost precision, thereby improving production quality.

  • Maximum flexibility

    The tasks of collaborative robots can be flexibly adapted. Furthermore, collaborative robots can be deployed in varying locations and with low space requirements.

The next level: HRC meets mobile robotics

The KUKA KMR iiwa proves that mobile robots can also be fully HRC-capable and move freely and safely in the work environment of the human.

The KMR iiwa is a combination of the LBR iiwa and a mobile platform that can navigate autonomously using laser scanners and react flexibly to its environment.

The combination of mobile and stationary cobots is also possible. In the pre-setup area of a production line, for example, a KMR iiwa can deliver the workpieces while a stationary LBR iiwa supports the production personnel with assembly.

HRC: Symbiosis of state-of-the-art robotics and traditional teamwork

Human-robot collaboration is revolutionizing industrial production – and also playing a major role in other sectors, such as the medical technology sector.

Automation expert KUKA is one of the primary driving forces at the forefront of this development with its sensitive, collaborative robots and intelligent software solutions.

Medical robotics with a sensitive touch

Thanks to HRC technologies, the sensitive LBR Med can be integrated into a wide range of medical applications.